Never in my life have I so loudly heard 20,000 completely silent people.
Marquis Daniels banged his head against Gilbert Arenas’ shoulder and slammed to the floor like a felled tree. He laid motionless on the court, and the TD Garden crowd feared the worst. Doc Rivers immediately rushed to Daniels’ side, asking Arenas not to touch Daniels’ body. Rivers knew it was bad. The silence was eery — 20,000 people hoping, praying, for one man’s health.
“No player wants to be in that position,” said Kevin Garnett. “No human being wants to be in that position. Difficult moment.”
To say the least. A stretcher was carried onto the court, and the Celtics all surrounded their teammate. Garnett, Rajon Rondo and Kendrick Perkins knelt beside Daniels. The rest of the Celtics circled closely, all watching intently as their brother’s basketball future — for those fearsome moments — seemed unsure.
“When I saw his face,” said Ray Allen, “it was the scariest feeling because it was almost like he couldn’t do anything. It’s the risk we always run, but for that moment it just seemed like ‘let me go to the hospital and let me do what I need to do to see that he’s all right.’ Because basketball is the last thing on my mind.”
With Daniels laying on the floor, not moving, the game didn’t matter as much. Or, at all. As long as Daniels looked so defenseless, as long as everyone in the TD Garden feared Daniels could be paralyzed, the game was secondary. Daniels was dealing with something far greater, his life as he knew it in jeopardy. When Daniels finally raised a thumb to signify that he could move, the crowd exhaled. An ovation followed Daniels as he left the court, but the ovation wasn’t joyous. It was the nervous clapping of a crowd still worried about its fallen soldier.
As weird as it felt to return to basketball, the game must go on. Rivers didn’t use the ensuing timeout to draw a play. It didn’t feel right, so instead he told his players, “Just go play.” And they did. Most Celtics said Daniels’ injury energized the team, providing a spark that had been absent before Daniels went down. Rather than sulk the rest of the afternoon while worrying about Daniels, the Celtics re-focused.
“If you ever have a family member and something ever happens to them, you don’t feel right,” said Paul Pierce. “And we’re around each other so much — plane, bus, we even go to each other’s houses — so it’s like we created this bond with one another and when something bad happens to him we all feel for him but the rest of us try and rally together, and that’s what you kind of saw in those two injuries.”
Thank God, Daniels’ injury was diagnosed as a bruised spinal cord. He has already regained function of his body, and should return to the court in a month or two. He was released from the hospital today, and was reportedly in good spirits. The crisis, which weighed so heavily on the fans who all feared the worst, was averted.
For a few minutes, we thought Marquis Daniels might have made his last cut through the lane. We thought he might never post up a smaller, mismatched defender again. Far more importantly, we thought he might have walked his final step. When we saw the thumbs up, we at least knew Daniels could move. 20,000 spectators could finally breathe.
One or two months is a long time to miss. Daniels won’t return until sometime around the beginning of the NBA playoffs. But that sure as hell beats the alternative, doesn’t it?